Camping In The Mountains | Tips For A Successful Alpine Adventure

Camping in the mountains is an adventure that will leave you breathless and humbled. You’ll never forget the teeny tiny feeling you get when you stand amongst ancient mountain peaks that dominate the landscape, their gnarled and scoured bones telling the story of time. 

We’ve spent many nights breathing in the fresh air from mountain tops as we watched the sun slouch on the horizon, casting brilliant shades of pinks and purples across the vast sky. We’ve also spent many nights huddled in our tent while the wind howled outside with a ferocious force. 

While camping in the mountains can create the best memories, it can also cause you great mayhem. Before you embark on your first alpine camping trip, have a read of our tips and advice to make sure you’re well prepared for whatever the wild will throw at you. 

Cooking dinner while alpine camping in the mountains in Kosciuszko National Park

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Tips For Camping In The Mountains

Before we share any of our tips and advice for camping in the mountains, I want to cover a very important topic – leave no trace. 

When you’re out in the mountains – or anywhere for that matter – it’s imperative to follow the 7 leave no trace principles and ensure that you’re leaving a destination in the same (or better) condition as when you arrived. Our planet is suffering and the main cause is us, so it is each and every one of our responsibilities to do all we can to protect and preserve our precious nature. 

If you’re not familiar with the 7 Leave No Trace Principles, you can visit the official website here

And now, let’s dive in.

Sunrise over tents at Shelf Camp Below Mt Anne While Hiking the Mt Anne Circuit

Research Your Destination

Before you set off on your ultimate adventure of camping in the mountains, you’ll want to obtain as much information on your destination as you can. If it’s your first time alpine camping, we suggest choosing a destination you’re familiar with. Otherwise, the details to gather are:

Research The Trail

You can use blogs or your state’s national park website to find information on the trail that will ultimately lead you to your alpine camping destination. The details you want to learn about are:

  • Distance of the trail – Plan to reach camp with at least 2 hours of daylight left to set up and cook
  • The average time it takes – Some trails take far longer in comparison to the distance travelled
  • Elevation gain – A steep elevation gain can add on a great deal of time, try to find a graph that indicates whether the elevation gain is gradual or condensed. Alltrails is a great tool for this
  • Highest elevation – This information will allow you to gauge how cold it will be at your campsite
  • The difficulty of the trail – This will also assist you in determining how long a trail will take and whether it’s within your skill level

Trail notes are also a handy source of information to read and may even provide tips on the best spots to set up camp. The best resources for trail notes, in our opinion, are posts from bloggers that have covered the area in question. Simply type your destination in Google and browse the results until you find one that speaks to you – you might have to move off the first page to find what you’re looking for. 

Hiking to the summit of Frenchmans Cap Tasmania with a never ending mountain range in the backdrop

Be Aware Of Any Restrictions 

Some places you wish to camp may have restrictions in place that don’t allow you to simply pick anywhere you please to set up your tent. This can be for an array of reasons, ranging from fragile ecosystems to overcrowded hikes.

Some other restrictions or rules you could come across are fire bans, packing out your poop (more on this later), or limited numbers of hikers per day.

You can find out what restrictions are in place for your destination of choice by checking the national parks website, searching for blogs on the area, or visiting an information centre nearby. 

Check For Water Sources

A very common mistake people make when camping in the mountains is to underestimate how much water they will need. Aside from the amount you’ll drink, you will also use at least a litre per day for cooking and hot beverages.

When you’re consulting the map (ideally topographic) of where you plan to camp, check whether there are any water sources nearby. Usually, the thicker the blue line on the map indicates a larger water source. But of course, these aren’t always reliable – especially in summer. Once you’ve done your research, check in with the visitors centre before you leave for the current water levels. 

And remember, if you’re planning to fill up from a natural source it’s best to treat the water before drinking it. You can do this by boiling the water first, filtering it using a water filter, or adding iodine tablets

Mt Geryon towering above the Labyrinth on an eerily calm evening

Make A Packing List And Double Check It

There’s no worse feeling than finally making it to your alpine camp only to realise you’ve forgotten a key piece of equipment such as your down jacket… trust us, we’ve been there! 

Now, no matter how confident we are, we check our packing list and tick off each item as it goes into our bag. I know, this seems overly excessive, but wait till you reach your camp only to realise you forgot matches and can’t cook your dinner! Not ideal. 

Click here to download a pdf of our hiking packing list

Essential hiking packing checklist

Test Your Gear Before You Go

New camping gear is very exciting, however, it’s not so exciting when you get to your campsite, usually with little to no reception and realise you haven’t any idea on how to use your new tent or hiking stove

If you’re setting off with new gear, make an effort to familiarise yourself with its functionality and limitations. Following this practice may seem cumbersome, but with a strong knowledge and confidence behind your gear, you’re guaranteed to be better prepared for an adventure camping in the mountains.

And for your well-loved gear that’s been collecting dust in your shed, set it up and check it over before you leave incase a mischievous mouse has snacked on it or a vital piece has been mysteriously misplaced!

Packing up tents at sunrise on the camping platforms at Lonely Tarns

Invest In High-Quality Gear

We love a bargain just as much as the next person, but there are times when getting the cheapest option just isn’t worth the hassle! 

When you’re camping in the mountains, the weather runs the show. One moment, it could be perfectly calm and the next, you could be caught in a ferocious storm. It’s important to have gear that will hold up to the wild weather and terrain that you’re likely to find in the alpine. 

The most important of your essential hiking gear to get right is your tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, rain jacket, hiking boots and backpack. Of course, we recommend going for quality for all your alpine camping gear, but these items are essential to get right, because if they fail, you won’t be able to function properly. 

Tent set up in a snow cave while Camping in the snow while hiking in Thredbo

Choosing The Best Tent For Camping In The Mountains

Your tent is arguably the most important piece of equipment when you’re camping in the mountains. A good sleep is something you will cherish in the wilderness and for that to happen, you need to trust your tent will survive whatever the weather throws it’s way.

The biggest debate hikers have regarding tents is whether to go for a 3-season or a 4-season tent. For most conditions you’ll encounter in the mountains, a 3-season tent is capable and preferred. 4-season tents are built for the absolute extremes of winter which makes them, in most other scenarios, impractical and an overkill. They are generally heavier, more expensive and substantially less breathable than a 3-season tent. So unless you plan to predominantly go camping in the snow, we highly recommend purchasing a 3-season tent.

Key components to look for in a backpacking tent:

  • A separate outer rain fly
  • Free standing style (one that can be set up without pegging down is better for rocky alpine areas)
  • Lightweight (but don’t skimp on durability)
  • Thicker material for the base of the tent
  • Durable 3-season tent (unless you plan to camp in the snow most often, then look for a 4-season)
  • Good sized vestibules (two is ideal)

Choosing The Best Backpack For Camping In The Mountains

Most often, when you’re camping in the mountains, a decent slog is required to reach your campsite. This is why choosing the right backpack is almost as important as your tent because, in the event it fails, you’ll be forced to retreat back to your car.  

When choosing a backpack, you will want to ensure it’s sturdy with the ability to evenly distribute the weight across your shoulders and hips. You will also want a durable material to minimise the risk of it ripping in rough terrain.

Below are the Osprey Hiking Packs we own and love!

Key components to look for in a backpack:

  • Comfortable and adjustable hip belt
  • Chest strap
  • Ventilated back
  • Built-in rain cover
  • Heavy-duty material (nylon or canvas is best)
  • Adjustable back length
  • Internal frame design
  • Big enough to fit all your equipment inside the bag with minimal items hanging off the outside

Choosing The Best Sleeping Mat For Camping In The Mountains

Much to the surprise of rookie alpine campers, your sleeping mat is one of the key components that will keep you warm while sleeping. A mat will insulate you from the cold ground, where most of your body heat escapes.

There are three main types of sleeping mats that you can choose from for backcountry camping, these include a foam mat (like your yoga mat), a self-inflating mat and a blow-up inflating mat. We recommend either the self-inflating or blow-up mats because they offer more insulation and comfort. 

When you’re choosing the best sleeping mat for alpine camping, after choosing the style, the factors of most importance are weight, insulation and comfort.  

Key components to look for in a sleeping mat:

  • An R-value (warmth) of at least 2.5
  • Lightweight 
  • Packs small
  • Full-length
  • Width of at least 50 cms
  • Easy inflation (no bulky hand pumps)

Note: If you’re camping in the snow, you may want to take a foam mat to place underneath your inflatable mat. This doubles the insulation properties and allows for a warmer nights sleep.

Choosing The Best Sleeping Bag For Camping In The Mountains

Sleeping bags have come a long way from the big and bulky ones we used to have back when we were kids. There are now hundreds of lightweight options that offer substantial warmth in comparison. 

When you’re deciding on the best sleeping bag for you, choose one that has a warmer rating than you think you’ll need. You’ll be surprised just how cold you can get when you’re in the alpine camping on the ground. And on the rare occasion that you get too hot, you can simply unzip it or sleep in your sleeping bag liner instead. 

Key components to look for in a sleeping bag:

  • Warmth comfort rating temperature lower than you ever expect to camp in
  • Mummy style is best to retain heat
  • Attached hood
  • Anti-snag zipper feature
  • DWR coating on sleeping bag
Mammut Perform Fibre -7 sleeping bag, perfect for Australian Alpine camping

Shop Mammut Fibre
Budget Friendly Synthetic

Sea To Summit Spark III sleeping bag for camping in the mountains

Shop Sea To Summit
Premium Ultralight Option

Mammut Down -7 sleeping bag for camping in winter in the mountains

Shop Mammut Down
Warmest Option

Note: Sleeping bags generally have three temperatures listed on their ratings. These will indicate the maximum temperature for comfort, lower limit and extreme. Use the comfort rating as your guide for the coldest temperatures you plan to camp in.

Choosing The Best Rain Jacket For Camping In The Mountains

Whether or not it’s forecasted to rain when you plan your alpine camping trip, chances are you’ll get wet. The moisture in the air is denser the higher you climb and sudden rainfalls or mist is common.

Other than keeping you dry, the best rain jackets will protect you from the wind which is also very frequent on top of a mountain. We recommend wearing a rain jacket as your outer layer any time the sky is even a little grey. 

Key components to look for in a rain jacket:

  • At least 2.5 layer but preferably 3 layer fabric
  • Gore-Tex or equivalent membrane
  • Attached self-supporting hood
  • A rating of at least 15k/15k
  • DWR coating or sustainable equivalent
  • A loose fit to allow for layering underneath
  • A high level of ventilation and breathability

For further information visit our guide on the best rain jackets for alpine camping.

Choosing The Best Hiking Boots For Camping In The Mountains

As we mentioned above, camping in the mountains often requires a demanding walk to reach the campsite. And we all know that if your feet aren’t happy, you’re not happy! 

Finding the right shoes to hike in is essential for two main reasons. Firstly, hiking blisters are the devil and will cause you to contemplate turning back. And secondly, having warm and dry feet will help prevent a loss of warmth when the temperatures plummet. 

We recommend hiking boots for alpine camping and hiking because they are more sturdy and offer greater warmth and stability when carrying a heavy pack. However, it’s important to note that you should break in your hiking boots on shorter walks beforehand to ensure there are no pressure points where blisters might occur.

Key components to look for in a pair of hiking boots:

  • Gore-Tex or equivalent waterproofing 
  • Above ankle height for extra support
  • Stiffer midsole for extra durability
  • Soft liner for comfort

What to wear camping in the mountains

Finding the best hikes near me wearing all of my hiking gear

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but I will say it again… Cotton is the devil!! It is the worst material to wear when your are trying to stay warm while hiking in cold weather.

Whatever you do, don’t wear anything that is cotton while hiking in the mountains. It is non-breathable which causes your sweat to pool and freeze against your skin. 

The best material to wear while hiking and camping in the elements is merino wool or synthetic fibres (preferably recycled) such as nylon, polyester or polypropylene. Some gear may even be a combination of synthetic and merino to achieve the best results. This is extremely important to remember when searching for the best base layers for hiking.

The second most important thing about clothing after the material is layering. If your layering game is on point then you will stay warm and regulated throughout your camping experience.

The ultimate layering system for alpine camping:

Of course, you may not need to wear every item all the time, but remember that the weather in the mountains will be colder than in the valley where you began. Even if it’s a warm sunny day when you start your camping trip, it could be completely different in the alpine and therefore, always bring warmer clothes than you expect to need – including spares!

Cooking Equipment That Won’t Fail In The Alpine

Cooking dinner while camping in the mountains in Tasmania

There are three types of hiking stoves used for backcountry camping and these are:

The canister and integrated canister stove use iso-butane gas which works amazingly… until it gets too cold. When the winds increase and the temperature drops, iso-butane gas doesn’t work as efficiently and results in a longer cooking time.

This is where the integrated canister stove (Jetboil) shines. Because of its windproof design, it will work more efficiently in cold and windy conditions when compared with the regular canister stove. However, as you may have guessed, it is more expensive.

The liquid fuel stove is the most efficient in extreme weather, however, there is a learning curve for these stoves and if you don’t clean them properly every time you use them, they can be unreliable. For this reason, and the fact they’re the most expensive option, I wouldn’t recommend them for first-time alpine campers.

Unless you plan to camp in the mountains regularly and year-round, the canister stove will suffice to begin with. Here are some extra tips to ensure your canister stove set-up works most effectively when you’re camping in the mountains.

  • Bring a wind protector or create one using rocks
  • Pack extra gas to ensure you don’t run out
  • Partially cook meals before you leave 
  • Choose meals that don’t take long
  • In extreme cold conditions, keep the iso-butane gas wrapped in clothing to keep it warmer

Have a backup plan for your dinner

Eating a hot meal while camping in the mountains at Mt Kosciuszko National Park

While we always try our hardest to cook a filling and nutritious dinner no matter what, sometimes the weather is just too ferocious to even attempt it. This is why we always bring an emergency meal that doesn’t require heating in the event that we can’t cook! 

Our favourite options to bring as our emergency meals are:

  • Wraps and peanut butter
  • Ready-made tuna and rice packets
  • Fresh vegetables on single overnight trips (carrots or snow peas are good)
  • Nuts and dried fruit
  • Chocolate to make us feel better about our missed dinner

Don’t Rely On Making A Fire

Warming around a fire while hiking in cold weather at the Warrumbungles camping

Leaving your stove at home in the hopes of cooking your meal on a campfire is asking for trouble. Because more often than not, a campfire won’t be possible. 

We’ve barely had any fires in the alpine for three main reasons. One, there are no trees in the alpine and very few shrubs. Second, most places we camp have restrictions on open fires due to the areas being remote and protected. And third, the wind often makes it an impossible task. 

You can find out if there are open fire restrictions where you plan to camp either on the national parks’ website or at the visitors centre closest to your destination. 

Watch The Weather

Tents pitched on the rock slabs at Shelf Camp on the Mt Anne Circuit hike

The weather in the alpine can be vastly different to what you’re experiencing in the towns nearby. Temperatures plummet in the alpine at night and the weather conditions can change on a dime.

As a general rule of thumb, the temperature decreases by 1℃ every 165 m of elevation you gain. And once you hit the alpine regions, the weather can often be more volatile than the forecast predicted.  

The best source to use for the most accurate weather is mountain forecast, which gives you the temperature and windspeed at 3 different elevation levels. 

How To Poop In The Alpine

Pooping in the snow while apline camping in the mountains in Australia

More often than not, when you camp in the mountains there will be no facilities. That means you’ll have to poop in a hole or pack it out with you. 

I know, this sounds gross but you get used to it quite quickly. I would actually rather do this than poop in a smelly spider-infested drop toilet!! 

In some places, you’ll simply dig a 20cm (minimum) deep hole and poop in it, covering it and your biodegradable toilet paper back up once you’re finished, but in others, it may not be so easy. 

The ground is often rocky, hard and pretty much impenetrable once you reach the alpine which restricts your hole digging abilities. Another roadblock could be that there are too many water sources that link together, resulting in contamination of your drinking water if you poop too close to them.

This is when a poop tube is necessary. I promise, it sounds worse than it is! All you have to do is bring along a tall cylinder container that has a lock-tight screw lid, baking paper and a fresh scented garbage bag. 

How To Poop In A Tube

  1. Line your cylinder container with the garbage bag
  2. Lay your baking paper on the ground and hold it down with four rocks on each side
  3. Do your business on the baking paper, then place your toilet paper on top
  4. Bring the corners of your baking paper together and pick it up
  5. Place the baking paper and your poop into the garbage bag lined container and screw on the lid.

That’s it, simple! 

It honestly doesn’t even smell too much due to the double layer. Just remember not to pee on the baking paper, that can make things quite messy!

Choose Your Campsite Carefully

Moody Sunset overlooking Strahan and the West Coast of Tasmania from the peak of Mount Tyndall
Where not to camp… We had to retreat at midnight when a storm rolled in, got the shot though 🙂

When you reach your destination and begin looking for a place to call home for the night, there are a few things that you should consider before making the decision. 

  • Always pitch your tent on the leeward (situated on or towards the side sheltered from the wind) side of the mountain
  • Use large boulders or thick shrubs as a shelter from the wind
  • Choose rock slabs to pitch your tent when the only other option is fragile plants
  • Sleep off the peak – even a knee-high windbreak will make a world of difference
  • Avoid mountain passes that create wind tunnels (this we’ve experienced and don’t recommend!)

However, it is important to note that the wind is known to change directions without notice. So when you’re searching for your ideal campsite, try to find somewhere that has more than one direction sheltered. 

If there are no shelter options and you don’t wish to recede into the treeline, take note of your tent’s design and set it up so it is streamlined with the wind. Usually, your tent will be rectangular so pitch the shortest and lowest side towards the direction of the wind. 

Set Your Tent Up Properly

Setting up camp at Wineglass Bay Beach Campsite in Freycinet National Parks

Never skimp on setting up your tent correctly!

This is something you will sorely regret later on when your tent collapses on your head while you’re trying to sleep, or flies off the mountain top with all your gear inside – seriously, I have heard of this happening from a reputable source! 

Ensure you peg out every guy rope diagonally and keep the tent as taut as possible. Sometimes, you may not be able to get the pegs into the ground so bring extra bits of rope that you can attach to the guy ropes and tie off to bigger rocks or shrubs nearby. 

Some tents also have a velcro piece on the body of the tent that can be attached to the poles before the fly is thrown over. This can help the poles stay in place when the wind picks up. 

Don’t Forget Your Headtorch

Hiking the epic ridgeline of Mt Victoria after climbing the the peak

This may sound like an obvious tip, but it’s one that is surprisingly overlooked! 

Often people think they can just rely on their phone, but remember you’re most likely using your phone as your GPS and camera as well which will drain the precious battery. Not to mention, your phone light is much duller than a regular headtorch and won’t light the way very well if you need to walk anywhere in the dark. 

The best form of light for camping in the mountains is a headtorch so that your hands are free for cooking and setting up camp. When buying a headtorch, choose one that has at least 100 lumens – this refers to the brightness of the torch and will be listed on the packaging. 

Be Prepared To Hike Out At Night

Hiking in the snow in the dark

This tip is a little controversial because if you’re not comfortable hiking at night then we certainly don’t recommend doing so. However, if the wind is threatening to throw you from the mountain top, bailing might be the safest option. 

If the trailhead is under 3 hours away and you’re comfortable walking the track at night then the best option could be to return to your car. If you’re further away or uncomfortable hiking at night, you can search for another campsite that’s more sheltered or retreat to the treeline if it’s not too far away and you’re confident you know the way. Remember to avoid camping under large trees and their branches in high winds.

Ultimately, this situation should be avoided at all costs. If the weather forecast is calling for bad weather you should postpone your trip. And if you can see the weather changing while you’re hiking, turn back or find a safe place to camp and continue to the summit the next day if possible. 

We hope that this guide on camping in the mountains has helped you feel confident in getting out there yourself! Just remember to always check the weather and the trail conditions before-hand and tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. If there is another tip or piece of advice that we have left out, please let us know in the comments below! 

Happy Camping 🙂